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Sarah Chapman

Sarah Chapman MSocSc (Hons), PGDipRep, MgtCert (Open), MNZPI

The New Zealand Planning Institute notes with great sadness the untimely passing of Sarah Margaret Chapman, MNZPI, who lost her valiant battle with cancer last month.

Professionally, Sarah managed to cram a lot of planning experience into a comparatively short career. The daughter of an academic, her passion for landscape and sea was apparent from an early age and led her to pursue a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree in Earth Science and Geography, which she received from the University of Waikato in 1993. She subsequently added two more qualifications from her alma mater: a 1995 Master of Social Sciences (Hons) and a 1996 postgraduate Diploma in Resource and Environmental Planning.

In 1995 Sarah began work as an Environmental Planner for Thames and Coromandel District Council, in whose employ she remained until 1998, when she co-founded - together with Graeme Lawrence and Bain Cross - the firm of Lawrence, Cross and Chapman In 1999-2000 she spent 20 months in Germany with her husband Trevor, during which time she not only managed to maintain her involvement with LCC back home, she also racked up a further qualification in the form of a Professional Certificate in Management from Britain’s Open University.

Sarah’s expertise in policy development and analysis, plan implementation and monitoring, Regional and District integration and cross boundary issues brought her into contact with a wide variety of stakeholders. Equally at home engaging with public sector entities, the private sector, tangata whenua and community groups, she was much appreciated for her professional acumen, intellectual rigour, straightforward approach and personal warmth. Sarah had the rare ability to ‘join the dots’ between the strategic ‘big picture’ and on-the-ground implementation. Her willingness to take the initiative and do whatever it took to get the job done – which frequently involved meeting challenging deadlines - was highly regarded by colleagues and clients. And, as many of her younger colleagues can attest, she was an enthusiastic and patient mentor.

As a resource management specialist, Sarah was a class act. Many of the projects she handled were highly complex and, in some cases, marked by adversarial relationships. Crucially, she was able to deftly mediate between the conflicting interests involved and help forge groundbreaking solutions. She will be particularly remembered for her work in evaluating and formulating regional and district policy and planning provisions in the Waikato and Auckland Regions and in the Thames-Coromandel, Waipa and Franklin Districts. Her insightful input into the development of regional geothermal policy for the Waikato Region and, most recently, the conceptually difficult and complex Lake Taupo variation to control nitrogen inputs will be especially remembered.

Her able assistance to senior council staff on the analysis and assessment of large and highly complex applications for consent and the decisive expert evidence she provided to the Environment Court reflect the clarity and tenacity that characterized her professional approach. Protection of natural qualities of Kaipara Harbour, public access along coastal margins at Hot Water Beach, the historic heritage and amenity value of State houses in Hayes Paddock in Hamilton and Waikato Geothermal Policy development represent examples of the assistance she provided to the Environment Court.

Equally committed to making an academic contribution to planning theory, Sarah was also involved in two research programmes on, respectively, CLIMPACTS relating to climate change adaptation and Planning Under Cooperative Mandates, undertaken by the University of Waikato’s International Global Change Institute with funding from the Foundation of Research, Science and Technology.

And let’s not downplay the zest and stamina Sarah brought to her social life! An inveterate event planner, she was an active participant in NZPI conferences, Waikato branch activities and on the organising committee for NZPI’s Hamilton Conference. More recently she didn’t even let chemotherapy treatment get in the way of her attendance at the Great Race Ball, indeed she tackled her last illness with the same grit and positive attitude she brought to the rest of her life.

While Sarah will be sorely missed by her husband Trevor, son Alex, her family, business partners, colleagues and many friends both in New Zealand and internationally. Her intellectual acuity, poise, strength of character and spirit will continue to inspire everyone who had the privilege of knowing her long into the future.

This obituary is published in the New Zealand Planning Quartely, March 2007.

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